Homosexual Governor on the Loose!

| 17 Feb 2015 | 01:40

    I WAS AT HOME, taking a day off from my daily radio program, thinking it would be another slow news day in August. Silly me-there is a war on, after all, and we could have expected the California Supreme Court to nullify the 4000 gay weddings out there any day now. So I was sitting in front of the computer, the television on my desk tuned in to CNN, when Jim McGreevey stepped to the podium. The big, bad closet is alive and well in America, and like Hurricane Charley on that same day, it was about to make itself felt.

    Suddenly, my AOL overloaded with instant messages, the phone began ringing, the emails piling up. Ten minutes and what seemed like a hundred IMs later, CNN's Candi Crowley was talking about how McGreevey had just "admitted" to being homosexual, as if it were some sort of addiction or crime. Once again, the mainstream press was clueless. (It reminded me of when Tom Brokaw, reporting on Versace killer Andrew Cunanan, warned America of a "homicidal homosexual" who was on the loose.) I headed up to the Sirius studios to break in to the rebroadcast of my show that we'd been airing, and I did the last hour of the show live.

    The shocked and bewildered callers began the discussion, and the questions people were asking are the ones we're still asking days later. Who is the hero here? Who's the victim? Gay groups embraced McGreevey in his post coming out, which seemed a bit weird, since he was not exactly a paragon of political virtue, and then seemed to use his homosexuality to his advantage.

    Sure, he was now telling the truth and proudly calling himself "a gay American." But we then learned that he got the line from the Human Rights Campaign, the Washington-based gay group with which he'd apparently consulted in the days leading up to his speech, after they'd poll-tested the phrase. McGreevey was using his coming out to gain sympathy, and perhaps to deflect from other issues, still the opportunist he's always been. He'd hidden his homosexuality when it suited him, and he was now playing it up when it suited him as well.

    But so what? Just about every politician is an opportunist-it's the bar we've set in American politics, after all-and there have been plenty of straight politicians who've given jobs to their girlfriends and certainly many more who've had extramarital sex that went public in a scandal. They didn't resign, and nor should McGreevey have resigned. It could have been the beginning of his career as a gay American governor-the first ever-unless, of course, he was just using this as an excuse to cut his losses and run, so embattled was he on so many other issues.

    Then there's the alleged other man, Golan Cipel. McGreevey's aides have told the press that Cipel-the inexperienced Israeli citizen whom McGreevey had made his homeland security advisor, touching off a firestorm of criticism-was trying to extort millions of dollars from him, claiming he'd file a lawsuit against McGreevey unless McGreevey paid up. Cipel's now saying he's straight, that the relationship was not consensual and that he was sexually abused.

    He seems like a two-bit hustler, but I can't help but also think of the many men I interviewed in 1990 for my first book, Queer in America: Sex, the Media and the Closets of Power-men who worked for powerful closet cases in Washington. They were young, ambitious and closeted themselves, and found themselves working as aides for elected officials who exploited their own confusion and self-hatred.

    I remember, in particular, Keith, who worked for a male U.S. legislator who coerced him into sexual acts in return for advancement in his job. At the time, Keith still saw himself as straight, and couldn't understand the feelings he was having, nor why he continued in the job. But he certainly related at the time to Anita Hill, the woman who charged that Supreme Court Justice nominee Clarence Thomas sexually harassed her over a long period of time while she continued to work for him.

    But I don't know about Cipel. He seems like too much of a smooth operator-living in a posh place on the Upper West Side, cavorting with and working for a known blackmailer (McGreevey fundraiser Charles Kushner, who was charged with blackmailing his own brother-in-law), and, from what I'm told, being very out and about in all the gayest places in Chelsea. As new information comes out every day, McGreevey and Cipel both look sleazy-it seems like they indeed make the perfect couple.

    It's sordid, but there is something to learn here. So many people, including gay people of younger generations who might be very open themselves, seem to think the closet is a relic of the past. But the truth is, the vast majority of gay Americans likely still live closeted existences just like Jim McGreevey did. A lot of the McGreevey media coverage has claimed that he's from "a different generation," a "throwback," etc., as if he grew up in the 19th century. In fact, McGreevey, who is 47 years old, grew up in the 60s like the rest of the generation that is supposedly a product of the sexual revolution, the women's movement and the gay rights movement. He was 14 in 1969, the year of Woodstock and the Stonewall riots.

    We were to believe that there was a vast difference between the people of McGreevey's generation and those only 10 years his senior, with their Eisenhower-era childhoods. What McGreevey shows us is that plenty of ambitious people, operating within a world that is still greatly homophobic and has not yet elected an openly gay governor to any state, are willing to lie and deceive themselves, often engaging in irrational behavior.

    In fact, it may even be easier today to be closeted than it was in the past. As I wrote in this column a few months ago, the internet, for example, has provided a new forum in which married men can easily order up their fill of gay sex-discreetly, without having to go to a bar or some cruisey rest room-as if they're calling a Chinese place for take-out. They don't have to take risks, and can lead a secret life even more seamlessly. If we're going to traffic in clichés, maybe "throwback" isn't the one. Maybe we should be saying, the more things change, the more they stay the same. o